© 2018 by Hunter Ballantine Bell

Realign your perspective

What makes us human? This question of what differentiates our species from the rest of Nature is one that every person encounters. However, it is the plight of the egocentric, and does not have a clear and satisfactory answer.

We are pattern seeking creatures, and it is in our nature to categorize everything we see. Long ago, we evolved this ability as a much more primitive, non-human organism to better operate within our environment.

-You eat the mushroom, you get sick. Don't eat the mushroom-  

As our minds have become increasingly more complex, this trait has developed the ability to conceptualize ideas such as probability, time, and individuality: In short, the manifestation of creativity. But none of these concepts exist outside of our heads, and the likelihood of something happening in the future cannot be. The future, and for that matter time, is a myth that we believe in in order to function, and the trends we see occurring in the present simply spark our creative minds to believe that the universe could have been anything other than what it is. Our perception -and the senses that it is dependent on- is an organic phenomena, like reason and creativity, that help us to engage with the world we live in, but it does not provide us with certain knowledge. Our senses do not tell us what really is, only what to believe. Though sight implies the existence of something, we can not be sure what that something is, and therefore cannot be sure of anything. Knowledge of anything requires omniscience -knowledge of everything, and therefore certainty that there isn't something unknown that could influence the "known"- not the mild understanding that senses provide. Knowledge as we understand it is therefore inexistent. Take a lesson from the rainbow, which only exists within the perception of the observer. If a tree falls in a forest, it always makes a sound, because it does disturb the air around it. But if light is refracted over a forest and nothing is there to perceive it, there is no rainbow. There is only an atmosphere filled with light. So the reality that we perceive is proof of nothing. Our senses do not lie, per se, but we are deluded in believing that our senses tell us some inherent and undeniable truth about what is. Senses tell you something, but what that something is is uncertainty. What we experience is subjective perception, not the objective reality. Reason is then built on the collection of observations and experiences we have, and is therefore no more reliable when we try to derive universal truths from it. Like the rainbow, we cannot be sure that we are not simply convinced by a preconception of an untruth. To be subject to experience is to be ignorant of what is. We are all crazy -if crazy is to be out of touch with reality- and subject to the fantasies that we experience.

So what makes us human? Nothing. To differentiate ourselves from the rest of existence is to draw an arbitrary line in the sand based on our experience of reality. Within reality, there are no differences, there is no individuality, and the universe exists as one objective, un-qualified entity. The only "proof" we have of our own consciousness, freewill, and individuality is that we perceive these phenomena. We sense that we are, so we believe we are. But you are to nature merely what a single cell is to your body: an indistinguishable part of a greater whole. Our genetics do not even belong to us, as Infective Heredity, a theory that partially attributes evolution to the trading of genetic information that occurs when cells are near each other, would suggest. Because of this communal flow of genetic information, the lines between individuals -of single organisms, or categories like species- has yet again blurred. Humanity doesn't exist in a vacuum, but as one aspect or branch of everything that is one. We are, collectively, Gaia.

Disillusion of Anthropocentricism

The human mind -or more specifically, the biological mind- is a stubborn, even obstinate thing. So let's say I haven't convinced you that you aren't actually a "you". Let's say you still believe you are an individual part of what is the glorious human race. We are clearly very different from other animals, no? We live in cities, we grow and engineer our own food, we have art and culture. Anyone with eyeballs and a brain can see that humans transcended nature: we have grown beyond our fury and waxy counterparts. But this is simply because anyone with eyeballs and a brain is subject to the non-truths, or beliefs, that said brain entertains. We see patterns, whether they exist or not. This is the way we understand and make sense of the universe around us, but these categories that we assign to it only exist in our head. Our subjective minds try to simplify the universe by making it binary, but lines only exist in our minds. Reality exists as a spectrum of degrees. So if you must distinguish humanity, the difference is complexity. We are monkeys that think a little bit more than other monkeys. Our behavior changed ever so slightly, and our collective ability and productivity erupted exponentially. Humanity as a whole may be unique, but individual humans are pathetically similar to other organisms.

We do not even posses the virtues we attribute to ourselves. What you perceive as freewill, for example, is the recognition of decisions you have made, but these decisions are not made by some meta-physical soul or intrinsic human mind, they are the result of learned and evolved behaviors that are stored and influenced by chemical interactions within the very physical brain. Our decisions are therefore dictated by factors outside of our control. Our intellect is based on the rules of cause and effect. We are not even alive. Life as we know it is yet another illusion. There is no line that differentiates you from an inanimate rock, because what we conceive of as life is simply a more complex manifestation of the same physical laws that govern rocks. Biology is dependent on chemistry, which is a physical phenomena. In this sense, I take a Scientific Reductionist approach. The laws of biology do not contradict those of physics, instead they compound on it: they are more precise. Again, this is a discussion of the degree of complexity. So to reiterate, Life is not something special and different from non-life, it is merely the manifestation of a very particular, very complex chemical reaction. We are molecules doing what molecules do.

My Symbolism

Now that I have established my philosophy, I can begin to explain how this philosophy manifests in my art.

One of the most prominent symbols in my art is the Waining Gibbous. To simply see this symbol as a moon is to completely miss its significance. Let's be honest. A laughing moon is meaningless and cliché. The Waining Gibbous, on the other hand, is full of relevance.

The Waining Gibbous is a reminder to remain in perspective: to understand that your personal perspective is just that, a subjective state. By always depicting it as laughing with it's eyes closed, I develop it as a symbol that represents the ambivalence of the universe. The moon may influence us, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot influence it. The lack of eyes, and therefore lack of perception, illustrates an objectivity of reality that is independent of our perspective. Reality exists as it is regardless of our perception of it. Though the moon seems to be waining down here on Earth, this is simply an illusion of perspective. The moon is not losing it's light -to the detriment of those who see- and that is why it laughs. It laughs at us who see a devastating loss of light and insight in an otherwise insignificant pattern.

Furthermore, the Waining Gibbous represents the cyclical nature of the world. It is a reminder that things change, and above all else, change persists. It is our tendency to desire stagnation, because predictability is comfortable for things that try to know. We often try to resist change at all cost, and assign a negative quality to it. Death and extinction are inherently bad in our eyes, but they are a necessary part of the balance that is the universe. This is an important concept to be aware of as we face a mass extinction that we seem to be responsible for. But it is not a bad thing unless we deem it as such. The universe doesn't care, and neither does the moon. Just as the full moon will one day return, the Holocene Extinction will one day end, and the biome will become diverse once more. I also use mushrooms, the saprophytic symbol of a balance between life and death, to develop this notion that every yin requires a yang. Without up there is no down, but one is just as good and necessary as the other.

I develop the Bipedal Eyeball in contrast to the moon. I use the eyeball, which is an organ of perception, as a symbol of humanity to depict the human condition. We are single-sighted, anthropocentric creatures. This is the inescapable nature of seeing. These be-genitaled creatures are completely absorbed in seeing but never understanding. They run around causing havoc as they multiply incessantly, while they trample the ground beneath their feet. The eyeballs chase the moon's light, in a resistance of what they perceive as the dying of the the full moon. They are not wise enough to realize that what they do is destructive, quixotic, and the fatal flaw of their condition. Like humanity, which strives to reject it's animalness in pursuit of its own deification, the Bipedal Eyeballs strive for a life in the stars. But they are not stars, and will always fall back down to Earth in their own demise. All the while, the moon changes on.

This symbolic development has been a long, constantly shifting journey. While I have chosen to move on to other subject matter, I first developed this cannon using the symbols of bears and fire. The relationship between bears and fire have been something that many people in my family have used in their art to achieve different aims, primarily in the work of my cousin, and science fiction author, Terry Bisson who wrote "Bears Discover Fire". In my work, however, bears' obsession with fire is a symbol of the toxic, global culture of civilization. However, I do not anthropomorphize bears, rather, I zoomorphize the human condition. I represent the most animalistic and primitive aspects of humans in an attempt to dissolve the anthropocentric human-perspective and break down the sometimes delusional, constantly growing, and ruinous barrier humanity has erected between itself and the rest of the natural world. It is easier to analyze when the mirror isn’t turned inwardly, so the absurdity of the human plight is better represented under a guise of fur and claws. As long as our culture exists -one of agriculture which requires us to ​control the natural process rather than participate in a niche- we will attempt to correct the symptoms of our dissociation rather than correct the real problem. We will create policies that put a proverbial bandaid on the much more endemic issue. We chase ideals in hopes of a utopia without realizing that in that chase, we run farther and farther from the true utopia: balance. This plight is inescapable, it demands reconstruction not revisal.

Another symbol I have used to represent the human plight is western religion, which embodies the civilization of man, the pacification of the human beast, and as a result, the domination of everything that is not. The seven deadly sins, which are made up of our animalistic tendencies, represent humanities inability to exist in the anti-environment. These traits evolved to help us better exist in nature, but once they -and we- are taken out of context, they break down. In a civilized environment, the traits that once allowed us to live a healthy life are now burdens. We are facing an identity crisis and we don't even know it. I portray this conflict through my use of classical principles and religious motifs, not in an attempt to invalidate religion -something I believe that the modern world has slowly been drifting towards for centuries- but to highlight the other aspects of our lives that we convince ourselves are not simply the vestigial, cultural remnants of a pre-enlightened age -like the glorification of human life or the shame in the naked, human body-. As humanity attempts to be less wild and strive towards godliness, we are faced with the ever-present reality of our wildness. We cannot escape our nature, and any attempt to do so will crumble; like the bears, who in an attempt to create their own light and transcend the limits of night inevitably lose control and destroy themselves with fire. However, while the bears won't survive, the forest will still grow back. This marks my first contemplation on what it means to derive meaning. Is it a bad thing that we destroy? Or, as a part of nature, is it simply our place to be the facilitator of change and balance? If we are not responsible for our own actions, then what we cause is simply reality being itself, and to qualify that is to worry over nothing.

Fire symbolizes human progress and the inherent conflict that complex society faces. As we strive towards greater technology and cultural advancement, we drift ever further from the natural and healthy life; and in doing so sacrifice our own well being and that of our environment. This progress is an addiction perpetuated by the unsustainable anti-environment. Like the bears so infatuated with fire that they will cut down their own forests for the sake of the flame, we too destroy our own environment in the chase of an ever-easier, ever-synthetic life. As the bears become increasingly obsessed with fire, they turn their manipulation of the environment inward, becoming synthetic themselves. In this way fur is a symbol of the natural disposition that they are constantly fleeing in an attempt to define themselves as what nature isn’t. The cleansing of their fur and subsequent baptism marks their transition from beast to person, and from healthy balance to ego-centric delusion. 

Where to go from here . . .

This all may seem a little too abstract to derive significance from, but what does this mean for how we choose to live? The final take away here is a reminder to remain in perspective. While there is no meaning or significance in the objective reality, to deny meaning to the your own existence is wrong too. By the nature of experience, the world you exist in and what it means is only relevant to you if, in fact, you find it to be so. It isn't right to project your own opinions, morals, or expectations onto the environment -or other individuals- around you; Instead morality exists purely on a personal level. To be nihilist is to reject the human experience, and at the end of the day, the human experience is all we have. Things are meaningful if you find meaning in them, because YOU are your own reality. We are all crazy. Active participation in an objective reality is an unattainable goal.